Jan 18, 2013

[Movies] Forbidden Planet (1956)

There are a near infinite number of lists of movies that everyone expects you to watch whether it's winners of Academy Awards or somehow "essential" movies based on your interests. And of course in geek circles, are there are quite a number of classic movies that are considered "must-see" among science fiction fans.

Forbidden Planet is definitely one such science fiction movie and I still feel somewhat guilt that is has taken me this long to finally watch it. It first blipped on my radar not just because it's a rather "important" science fiction movie, but more because of the iconic character of Robby the Robot, who pretty much saturates every piece of collateral related to the movie.

And you know me and robots. Instant nerd-on.

But I was really surprised at how well thought-out this movie was, and I can certainly see how a lot of latter science fiction movies and shows were definitely influenced by this movie. Plus it's now in COLOR!

Synopsis: Forbidden Planet is a 1956 science fiction drama directed by Fred M. Wilcox with a screenplay by Cyril Hume. It is noted that it was the first science fiction movie to be set entirely on an alien planet and the special effects actually got the team of A. Arnold Gillespie, Irving G. Ries and Wesley C. Miller nominated for an Academy Award.

The movie is set in the 23rd century and starts with the crew of the United Planets Cruiser C57-D, led by Commander John J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen),  on their way to Altair IV. Their mission is to determine what had happened to a scientific expedition that had been sent 20 years ago but had not been heard from since. The crew is surprised to find that someone is still alive given they are radioed from the planet by the expedition's linguist, Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon).

Initially Dr. Morbius tries to dissuade the team from landing on the planet, but Commander Adams insists despite his warnings. Once on the ground, they are received by Robby the Robot, Dr. Morbius' fully independent robot aide of sorts. They eventually meet Dr. Morbius and learn of the tragic fate of the rest of the expedition and how Morbius is the only one left. It is later revealed that he's isn't quite alone - his daughter Alta (Anne Francis) is also alive and well. It is clear that Dr. Morbius is hiding things from the team but it will take time before they can piece through his elaborate stories and excuses in order to get to the truth of this planet.

Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet
Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
First, Robby the Robot is adorable. And more than just adorable, he's a pretty complex design for a movie robot and I can see why he was considered award-worthy. And it's not just Robby - a lot of work was done to make this movie pretty spectacular for its time including transporter-like effects and a pretty intense scene with a force field. I won't go into details in order to avoid spoiling the movie - and YES, I consider cool enough not to want to spoil a movie that is over 50 years old.

Then there's Leslie Nielsen, a name that I'll admit I more readily associate with slapstick comedies. But this is a pretty serious drama and he's not all that bad in it. Of course a lot of movies seem rather hammy in hindsight, but I think the performances here generally stand up.

Now when you get past the oddity of Alta playing the "I'm not slutty, I'm just naive" card, the core premise of the movie is very well-written. I can see how this movie was an influence for many other shows like the classic Star Trek series since the whole movie sort of plays out like the plots of one of those episodes. In other word, this is a solid piece of classic science fiction that raises various moral dilemmas and taps various disciplines. And that's really why this movie is awesome.

And Robby the Robot. But maybe that's just me.

I honestly did not get bored watching Forbidden Planet. It's a solid science fiction film that generally stands the test of time and I really, really hope that they never push through with any plans of remaking this film. After all, we saw what a travesty was done to The Day the Earth Stood Still. The movie rates a good 4.5 cool 1950's special effects tricks out of a possible 5.

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